Just Dropped By
There are many obligations which fall on the broad shoulders of a temple warden. Not only are there the endless administrative duties, the constant chasing for funds, the arbitrary dispensing of justice, and the providing of grave spaces for those whose bodies will never be found, there is also the
visiting of the sick.
In this, as in everything else, Maljie was assiduous in performing her duties.
The visiting of the sick has many aspects. It isn’t merely boosting the morale of the invalid, (or in the case of those enjoying ill-health, their long suffering family) it is also ensuring that proper medical help has been summoned and that the patient is being properly cared for.
Thus in some households the arrival of Maljie was on a par with the arrival of an avenging angel. In some cases it was the family who feared the arrival, in other cases it was the invalid.
But one afternoon will give you a feel for the role Maljie played. I had been encouraged to accompany her. First on the list for the day was Gamma Dilwin. A lady of immense age, so old in fact that it is one of her granddaughters, a respectable married woman with children of her own, who cares for her. Gamma has her own home and refuses to leave. As Maljie and I arrived, she met the granddaughter leaving. The younger woman was carrying a tray on which her grandmother’s mid-day meal had been served. I surveyed the tray, even empty the aroma that lingered was appetising. There had been soup, followed by minced horrocks and vegetables. There was still a slice of new bread, generously buttered, which the old lady hadn’t wanted. This was followed by a bread and butter pudding.
We went in and the old lady was sitting by the fire.
“Ha, somebody come to see if the old woman’s dead yet.”
“Hello Gamma, how are you doing?”
“Badly Maljie, badly. Nobody ever visits, I survive of crusts and whatever that slut of a granddaughter can spare.”
“Things are so bad?”
I noticed the pot of tea keeping warm on the hearth, the well banked up fire and the fact that the room was warm and clean. Maljie diverted Gamma’s talk to mutual acquaintances, (all dead, hanged and rightly so) Gamma’s offspring, (drunkards and ne’er do wells,) and the doings in the city. These latter provided Gamma with infinite satisfaction, things were collapsing into chaos in a most gratifying manner.
On our way out we met Gamma’s oldest son who was paying his daily visit, he brought with him more coal and some cakes his wife had baked.
Then it was on to our next destination, the home of Artos Wellbeck. Maljie had to detour to collect something so I went directly there. I was admitted by his daughter, Artos was in bed. He was suffering from ague, something that had come up from the river and left him prone to bouts of shivering and fever. When he learned Maljie was arriving he immediately threw back the bed clothes.
“Daughter, where’s me britches?”
“What do you want your britches for, Father, you’re in bed.”
“Be damned if I’m going to have Maljie see me lying in bed like an old man.”
“You’ll kill yourself.”
“So that way she’ll see me in a shroud and I won’t be there to feel embarrassed about it.”
With me acting as his valet, we got the old man dressed and through into the front room. As he sat in from of the fire I shaved him and we even trimmed his hair. I stepped back and looked at him then glanced at his daughter. She winked at me. Certainly he looked presentable. He was obviously unwell but he looked better for being out of bed.
At this point Maljie arrived. Here we sat and drank a selection of infusions the daughter served and we spent a pleasant hour. Artos seemed to be bearing up well, but I did notice there were times he would put his mug down and clutch the arms of his chair to keep himself from shivering too obviously.
Finally we felt we ought to make our apologies and leave.
The daughter asked, “Maljie, could you get him into bed please, he’ll not take any notice of me.”
Maljie, in her sternest and most formal manner said, “I am a respectable lady, what will people say if word gets out I have been seen whisking Artos Wellbeck off to bed.”
Old Artos hooted with laughter, his daughter blushed and Maljie left. I helped them get Artos back to bed and caught up with Maljie at the home of Jinatte Mallerstang. Madam Jinatte was of the same generation as Maljie.
Normally an active lady she had suffered from various complaints. Her doctor was Mord Filch so we had no worries about the medical care she was receiving, but her morale was poor. Maljie had taken to visiting her every afternoon to lift her spirits.
Jinatte was cared for by her husband, a decent enough chap although not the most competent person around the house. A daughter-in-law used to drop in daily to make sure that he didn’t inadvertently poison her.
As the husband went out to fetch us coffee, Maljie reached cross to Jinatte’s medicine bottle and hastily topped it up with plum brandy. By the time the husband arrived back we were all sitting innocently chatting about minor matters at the shrine.
When we left I asked Maljie, “Have you been topping her up with brandy every day?”
“Yes, but she’s had to be careful, she has to make sure that when her husband puts everything away in an evening, there’s a little bit less in the bottle than there was the day before.”
It was a few weeks later when Jinatte and her husband graced one of the events the shrine had put on. I asked the husband how Jinatte was.
“She’s fine. That Doctor Filch is a wonderful doctor, one bottle of his medicine got her back on her feet in a week.”
And now a brief note from Jim Webster. It’s really just to inform you that I’ve just published a full Tallis Steelyard novel. Yes, the rumours are true.
Tallis Steelyard, the man who considered jotting down a couple of anecdotes to be ridiculously hard work, and considered the novella form to be the very pinnacle of literary labour, has been cozened into producing a novel.
It is, ‘Tallis Steelyard. A Fear of Heights.’